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A Northumberland Alpine Gardener's Diary

This entry: 15 March 2010 by John Richards

Northumberland Diary. Entry 142

Winter relents

For historical purposes, I record here that over the last week winter finally relented. For the first time here in over three months, temperatures have exceeded 10C (not by much!), and we have had some lovely sunny days. Until Friday it was still frosty by night, but last night only went down to 4C, mirabile dictu, and we slept with the window open! Not surprisingly, the garden has come on apace, and if flowering is still a full month behind itself, well there are some interesting things to see in a normal February!

I shall start with a cavalcade of crocuses. Inside, Crocus versicolor is starting. This is a nicely marked form, better than most of those we saw in the Gorge de Verdon 10 years ago and which were illustrated in the Bulletin.

Winter relents

Crocus biflorus subsp. pulchricolor from Gothenberg seed is flowering for the first time (four years after sowing). Some of them are nicely buff-backed, but others are less interesting.

The first flower has also opened on C. reticulatus (also ex Gothenberg). There are several more bulbs, not yet flowering size.

Here is an interesting trio in the garden. Crocus 'Violet Queen', almost a weed here, and a very good white-flowered form of C. tommasinianus, with a lovely swan neck and flask-shaped bowl for all the world like a spring C. goulimyi. However, the third plant (below) is the most interesting. I couldn't name it, picked a flower and came to the conclusion that it must be C. dalmaticus. This is also flowering in a pot in the alpine house at the moment. The spot where it is growing outside often has discarding potting soil thrown on it, and I can only assume that I thought that the seedlings had failed. It has a lovely delicate scent.

Here is 'Violet Queen' again, this time with Galanthus woronowii. Both sow around everywhere here.

Most of the C. chrysanthus hybrids are not very persistent here (unlike the Botanic Garden in Newcastle). Here it is just not warm and sunny enough to suit them, and the drainage is too poor. The best is C. 'Gypsy Girl' which has been here for 20 years.

I am nearly crocussed out, but here is C. tommasinianus in its white form again, this time in a nice mix which includes Cyclamen coum (everywhere here at the moment), Galanthus woronowii again, G. Atkinsii 'James Backhouse', Leucojum vernum and Primula vulgaris subsp. sibthorpii.

We seem to have got back to snowdrops again. Here is a photo of what is that this time of year a 'Snowdrop walk' (very modest, 15 m long!)

A couple of years ago, back at entry 66, I recorded the discovery of a couple of wierdos near here, and I thought you might like to see what became of them. Neither are strong, but I have had four flowers on 'John's Spiky' this year. It is not to everyone's (anyone's?) taste!

Potentially a much nicer plant is 'Mini Muffin'. This is sadly weak and difficult to flower, but the neat ruff-like double semi-poculiform flowers are held erect, which is a distinct break, and should it perform I can see it reaching high prices. This year there are two flowers. I thought originally that its closest comparator was 'Blewbury Tart', but now think that 'Fluff' is closer. Any offers? I need to supplement my pension!

One more bulb. I have just acquired Iris 'Sheila Anne Germaney', a plant which I much admire and consider superior to 'Katharine Hodgkin' which flourishes here. It is now in flower. I take no credit for this whatever!

Leaving bulbs proper, I won't figure Saxifraga 'Louis Armstrong' as it has received due credit in the Shows part of the website. Instead, here are two stalwart members of the buttercup family, Eranthis hiemalis and Hepatica x media 'Ballardii'.

To finish with, a rather sad note from this wildlife friendly garden. It is some time since I railled against the blackbird, my number one enemy. On the whole I try to overlook its shortcomings, sweeping up the leaves it has displaced, and rerooting those plants scratched up. Yesterday however I came across a crime so blatant and perverse that I confess to losing control to the extent that several naughty words passed my puckered lips. For years, one of my proudest boasts has been a 40 cm perfect cushion of Bolax gummifer in a trough. This is what I found as I reached the terrace where it lives.

This particular blackbird has become so brazen, so foolhardy, that it had even ignored the potential perils threatened by the guardian spider, whose life has been dedicated to deterring such heinous crimes.

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